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Tuesday
Sep052017

New Film Studio on the Horizon

Do you remember that scene in Ocean’s Eleven (2001) where Yen asks “Where the fuck you been?” after Danny and Linus took a mighty long time to open the casino vault? That summarizes my thoughts every time I stopped by here in the last few months.

For the Yen's among us, here’s a summary of what’s been happening around the Madlab universe this summer.

I moved into a workspace where I’m building a film studio that will operate as an exhibition space for short films, production house to produce television programming for city dwellers and overall headquarters to support my work in the arts as well as works by other independent media creators. The short film Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever was also entered for consideration for two cable television awards, recognizing programs that resonate with a mission of promoting civic engagement on a local level, and democratic values through collaboration.

An attempt to see the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me led to me watching Transformers: The Last Knight instead (more details on that to follow) and I ended up going to see Girls Trip despite my lack of interest in this movie. Also, I plan to explain why STEP is a prime example of the best and worst aspects of modern-day cinema for young black girls.

What movies have YOU seen this summer?

 

Sunday
Aug162015

Sunday Synopsis: Why Straight Outta Compton is the Movie that Saved My Summer

I rarely ever go see a mainstream movie in theaters on opening weekend. Yet Straight Outta Compton, the biopic about the rise and fall of rap group N.W.A (comprised of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, DJ Yella and MC Ren) somehow managed to get me out to the cinema.

Of all the reasons to see this film, I was mainly hoping that it would afford me a two-hour vacation from a challenging summer. In a few different ways, the summer of 2015 has been harsh on several members of my family, as well as that of one of my childhood friends. Then in late July I had a bit of an accident that put me out of commission at an inconvenient time. Suddenly, there were injuries to tend to and I was not able to work as often and as well as I planned. Since then I’ve done what I could where able but updating this blog was among the things that fell by the wayside during these last few weeks despite my attempts to finish writing drafts of a blog post for the Popcorn & Paninis series, here and there.

As you can imagine, not being able to operate at 100% in even the most basic of activities is no fun. If you take one thing away from today’s post, remember to always take good care of your body, never take it for granted, protect it in every way you can and pay attention to the things you’re doing, everyday, when you are doing them. The human body is such a magical machine; its amazing the kind of things it can do and I’m grateful that it has all sorts of superpowers to repair itself like other things in nature such as crops in a garden, forests, land, etc. Still its also worth keeping in mind that just because something can be reborn anew doesn’t always mean it will return in the same way.

Often I’ve gone to bed these last few months thinking this year sucks. The thing about life, however, is that if you keep moving, you will also have experiences that remind you it’s not so bad after all. I can think of maybe 7-9 days I’ve had this summer so far where things seem to be looking up and one of them is when I went to see Straight Outta Compton over the weekend. Ever since watching the movie trailer months ago, I’ve anticipated its release because I’ve been an Eazy-E fan for a long time. Funny enough, I was not introduced to his music by N.W.A but rather from the work he did with my favorite rap group of all time….Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.

My familiarity with N.W.A came from vinyl record covers my mom had in the house, urban radio stations, MTV -- back when they were actually a music television channel -- and rap magazines sold at pharmacies like CVS, but I didn’t pay much attention to their songs.

Growing up, I knew more about the music of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre from their solo careers than any of the content chronicled in the movie about their early, and rocky, journey to putting the West Coast on the map, as far as the music industry is concerned. The fast paced Straight Outta Compton plays like a visual timeline of events that shaped music history while bringing our country’s political and social matters to center stage....

One day, a group of friends are uniting to make music and earn money through legitimate means during a time when the LAPD’s war on gangs made the future very uncertain for minorities regardless of their innocence. The next day, these same friends incite a nation of activists fighting to exercise (and maintain) their freedoms against censorship, violation of civil liberties, racial profiling and police brutality.

The biggest takeaway I gleaned from this movie is how important it is for disadvantaged youth around the world to have access to quality education and opportunities. There is a scene in Straight Outta Compton where Eazy-E (played by Jason Mitchell) bails Dr. Dre (played by Corey Hawkins) out of jail after Dre, who was working as a local nightclub DJ, was arrested without cause. In this scene, Dre convinces Eazy-E to leave his days of selling drugs behind to build a record label. Both of these young men are motivated by money and believe in their dreams enough to recognize an opportunity in the combined skills of their friends -- namely the writing abilities of Ice Cube (played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) and record spinning talent of DJ Yella (played by Neil Brown, Jr.).

All five members of N.W.A may not have looked like your average college graduate but they were still smart where it counted....channeling their own individual knowledge and talent into a more promising future for themselves; one that stretches beyond the most dangerous streets of Los Angeles. Straight Outta Compton depicts the lives of young men who speak up for the voiceless, marginalized members of society; people like them who are struggling to rise against a culture – be that in law enforcement, government, media and/or communities outside of their own -- that is intent on stereotyping everyone as criminals and people undeserving of respect, based on zip codes or appearances.

Chris, an L.A. native who also came to see Straight Outta Compton told me this is the “best hip hop movie” he’s ever seen. Chris just happened to be in town visiting and is probably on his way back to California right now as I write this, so having never been anywhere on the West Coast myself, it was nice to be surrounded by that L.A. life both onscreen and off-screen even for a short moment.

Although I have not watched many hip-hop movies in total, this film is definitely the best summer movie I’ve seen lately thanks to F. Gary Gray’s strategic assembly of a story that is bigger than hip-hop. That is where Straight Outta Compton shines for me.

For example, I vaguely remember watching news reports about the Rodney King beating and subsequent court verdict on television. I was just a kid then and didn’t think much of it except for the remarks I overheard from conversations between my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other elders. Straight Outta Compton helped put some things in perspective in terms of the significance of that incident and what it meant for the state of affairs between citizens, government and law enforcement.

Historical factors aside, this was a very entertaining film that made me laugh, cheer inside with excitement and jam out to classic tunes more times than it made me angry, nervous or want to cry. All despite the woman and her accompanying group of theater goers whose rude and ignorant outbursts were unwelcome by the rest of us who came to actually watch (and hear) the movie. It was a joy to learn more about how some of the biggest names in music known today got their start. So although this summer brought me some unexpected setbacks and painful times, the day I saw Straight Outta Compton was indeed...a good day.

R.I.P. Eric “Eazy-E” Wright.

Straight Outta Compton is now playing.

Find showtimes for movies in your area!

Sunday
Jul052015

Sunday Synopsis: 52 Weeks to Live, Technical Hurdles and Movie Snacks

@MadlabPostOver the years I've made New Year's resolutions but didn't consider them to be “resolutions.” They were more like mental notes comprised of broken promises to myself that spilled over from the previous 365 days and rarely changed....make more money, be more productive, work smarter, be happier, be nicer to my mother, and overall be a different and better version of myself than I was in years past.

Mostly, however, I resolved to doing something big and life-changing. It must be something so epically awesome that I would finally be able to look back on my life when New Year's Eve rolled around again, and be proud of what I accomplished and who I became. This rarely, if ever happened and is an unfortunately reality of my tendency to approach end-of-year moments with a sense of disappointment at all that I lost, all that I missed out on and all that did not get done.

So this year, I decided to do something different by vowing to myself that I would just let go of the wheel and live life on a whim. No goals. No resolutions. Just going with the flow of wherever the day takes me. That way, I would lower the risk of being disappointed at the end, right?! By mid-January, however, I became anxious because it felt like I was walking around aimlessly with no care in the world…which may seem ideal in theory but as it turns out, all this does it make you bored as hell. So this New Year's declaration of freedom from concrete goals  led to apathy; the transition was too extreme and laid back for me. So I chucked that plan in favor of one that gives me a sense of direction without having to worry about whether certain things get done or not. This plan, vow or whatever it shall be called, is to live like I will be dead in a year.

Storyboard frames I worked on a while ago for short video assignments.Wanting to embark on a 52 week project that would make me excited about life led me to several possibilities. I considered writing poems, drawing pictures, making mini-movies or completing several television episodes in 52 weeks and even doing random jobs like Sean Aiken did but none of these ideas felt like they would stick. Most importantly, they appeared to be focused on a single quest of sorts that might not even matter to me by the time it's all said and done. So, I decided to make my 52 week project about doing the best with what I have.

Rather than chasing a particular career-oriented goal or pursuing life-affirming goal, I intend to basically figure out what would truly matter to me if my doctor told me I would be kicking the bucket in 365 days, and in turn focus on the things that I want to do before I die. What would make me as content on my deathbed as Maggie in Million Dollar Baby was following one of her critical hospital visits? That is the question I aim to answer during such a fairly short period of time. To some this may seem like a morbid way to approach the day but it's the only thing I can think of that will give me the kick in the butt that will lead me toward taking action and not giving in to the bullshit that gets us sidetracked on whatever we want to make of our life. Plus, I've been on a path to prepare for death for some time since realizing how much our society is made up of millions of people who are either in denial of or fear (or both) of their eventual demise.

I just want to speed up my awareness so that I don't waste more time and look back on my life with anger, disappointment and sorrow every time New Year's Eve rears its burdensome head. While I understand that for some people, birthdays also come with a lot of mental and emotional turmoil, it doesn't really matter what occasion sparks a sudden sense of urgency, reflection and regret....they’re all in the way of peace and happiness. This reminds me of a book I read in 2012 called One Year to Live by Stephen Levine -- one of my most favorite pieces of non-fiction. During that year I also read Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and later recorded a video, discussing Levine's book, plans for this blog going forward as well as the state of my outlook on where I was at that time and much gratitude to those of you who read this blog.

Clock image courtesy of Niklas RhöseAlthough I could not bring myself to post the whole video here, for a few reasons, I'm adding a shortened clip about the book. It’s funny how we like to put off the reality that we won't live forever. I began my 52 week project in June after pushing it back for some abstract date in the future when it seemed more convenient for me. Aren't we so lucky to have the luxury of believing that there will always be time to get started on a task?!

It sounds fine and dandy except there isn't an infinite amount of time for anyone on this earth so I deliberately wrote down reminders of this project so I can start counting the days, or weeks rather, that I have left to live out my life. It was a Friday, June 5th. Up until then, I didn't think I was ready. I wanted to wait until my hair was washed, until the laundry was done, until my meal planning was underway and until I had the morning ritual, daily practice and business tips that have been working on in the bag.

But if I kept waiting until the right time or the perfect time, I will not only have delayed the act of "living" life as opposed to being philosophical about it, waiting would also cause me to end up looking back at my life on New Year's Eve 2015 and wondering, yet again, where all the time went. There came a time in June when I had to stop playing games and face this thing head on, regardless of whether I was ready to do so or not. That's the thing about time. It's always moving. We either have to move with it or we'll get left behind. Either way, the world turns and we'll be sure to miss out if we're not paying attention. Many people are hit hard by this realization on their deathbed.

(Some of) The video I recorded in 2012:

Just looking back at the last month, I wasted a lot of time in June. That is unnecessary. When put in the perspective of having 52 weeks to live, that's four weeks and 30 days already gone, which leaves around 47 weeks remaining. The clock is ticking. What am I going to get into during this time? Whatever I feel like being involved in. Although I still haven't zeroed in on all I’d like to experience before my 52 weeks have come to a close, I do know that my actions, thoughts and behavior should be predicated on one simple question: Is this the last thing I want to be doing?

My year-long death sentence will go by much smoother and be more fulfilling if I do things I want to do and not do anything that I don't want to do. It is such a simple concept that a lot of people understand and agree with but, unfortunately, do not put into practice and I am one of these people. That all must change. How many things do you do in a week that you really would much rather not do? I'd be willing to bet there are at least one or two activities or habits that you would love to drop. Lucky for me, blogging is one of the things that I do want to do and so this will remain until it doesn't anymore.

I like blogging, discussing movies and different subjects with people and I like the feedback that I've gained from doing so as well as the new things I've learned from readers who leave insightful comments here. So of course, that's why I'm aggravated at the computer difficulties I've experienced since Spring that have worsened, making it harder for me to blog as well as I would like. Among the items on my editorial calendar for this is a new series about movie theater concessions; I planned to run the series over the course of one week. Unfortunately, the computer I use to blog on is usually as slooooow as snails, which makes the research, writing of several drafts, formatting the final piece and publishing the post, a much longer process. Sometimes it feels like I'm using dial-up….even when offline.

The snack themed week is now a long-running series titled "Popcorn & Paninis."Because the computer goes at its own pace, I have to adjust the way I blog and that means this will have to be converted into an ongoing series of posts that go up as they are completed. Hence, what was Snack Week is now Popcorn & Paninis. On one hand, this also makes room for us to discuss various topics involving food as it relates to the motion picture industry, beyond the snack counter.

On the flipside, it’s still upsetting to have to drag out something that I’ve been planning for at least two months. There are cell phones that operate much faster than the computer on which I use to blog. That’s bad. Especially since aside from being ridiculously slow, it crashes frequently and turns off abruptly whenever it wants to on other occasions. I know I need a computer. However, I also need some furniture and am planning to travel out of town, so unless some miracle happens, that computer won't be had anytime in the near future. Just know this....new installments to the Popcorn & Paninis series are still in the works and will be posted between this week and the next. Meanwhile, John Legend said it best when he uttered...

We’re just ordinary people. We don’t know which way to go. ‘Cause we’re ordinary people. Maybe we should take it slow!